Liverpool analysis – Nat Phillips surprising decision justified as goalkeeper learns hard lesson

The deficit may have suggested Liverpool would have another difficult night in the EFL Trophy.

But there was plenty of encouragement for the young Reds, despite a 4-1 defeat to League One side Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday.

Elijah Dixon-Bonner scored for an under-21 side led by Barry Lewtas, who had good possession and created chances by reacting well to the dismal Premier League 2 show at Manchester United this weekend.

However, they were undone by Bolton veteran Nathan Delfouneso who scored in the first half and replaced Amadou Bakayoko twice after the break on either side of an own goal from Jarell Quansah.

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Philips surprise

After spending much of his formative career with Bolton, Nat Phillips found himself back in familiar surroundings here.

But the situation was a little less recognizable for the central defender, as he acted as an exaggerated player.

Phillips, one of last season’s breakthrough stars under Jurgen Klopp, has yet to kick a ball for the first team this season.

And if this was a chance to stretch his legs, there was another bonus to turn to the 24-year-old.

The Reds’ U23s had seen first hand on Saturday the difference 35-year-old Paul McShane has made with the Manchester United Academy. He offered experience and composure as the home side rode to a 3-0 victory.

And it was 18-year-old centre-back Jarell Quansah, who made his first start of the season after a pre-season injury, who was the main beneficiary of his older defensive partner’s know-how, although it was unfortunate to finish Bolton’s third in his own goal.

Phillips did what Phillips does, his searching passes from behind close in creating first half openings for Max Woltman and Tyler Morton, and his body getting in the way of a deliberate drive from Josh Sheehan.

With another match in this league next month in Port Vale, there could still be an opportunity for a similar experiment — and not necessarily just with Phillips.

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Morton impresses while Dixon-Bonner shines

Phillips was not the only player in the starting line-up with recent first-team experience.

Tyler Morton, who has long shown promise as he made his way through the Academy ranks, impressed during his debut as a substitute in the second half of the Carabao Cup win in Norwich City last month.

And here the 18-year-old was able to show his range of passes from the base of a midfield diamond with which Liverpool played for most of the game.

While the Reds had been looking for a long time, Morton’s creativity was also on display, not least when he created an opportunity in the second half that was turned down by Dixon-Bonner.

Dixon-Bonner, who was on trial at Portsmouth over the summer, was Liverpool’s best player that night when he started as a false nine, competitive when he fell in the engine room and lively in possession.

At 20, he was one of the older members of the Reds team, and it showed.

So deserved his attack midway through the second half, even if it took a deflection to trick Bolton goalkeeper Matt Gilks.

It was also a reward for the 50 or so traveling fans who made the journey from Merseyside to watch a game played in truly appalling conditions.

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Pitaluga promise

As with their first EFL Trophy group game in Rochdale, Liverpool were far from full strength.

International calls had robbed Lewtas of the likes of Kaide Gordon, Conor Bradley, Owen Beck, James Norris, Luke Chambers and Tom Clayton.

Due to the absence of Harvey Davies, there was still a chance for Marcelo Pitaluga in goal.

The Brazilian had a good night for the most part, confident and composed in dealing with the threat from the air and solid with his kicks.

And he was not to know that Bakayoko was offside when he made a great save from close range shortly after half-time to refuse the substitute.

Senior football can be relentless, though, and Pitaluga paid for a brief hesitation when he knocked down Mitchell Henry in the area, though he nearly saved Bakayoko’s resulting penalty kick.

He, like his teammates, will continue to learn from these kinds of encounters, which is exactly why the Reds entered the competition.

Liverpool U23 are next in action on Saturday, October 16, when they host Arsenal in Premier League 2 at the Academy.

LIVERPOOL (4-4-2): pitaluga; Wilson (Koumetio 67), Phillips, Quansah, Gallacher; Morton, Ritaccio (Mabaya 25), Corness, Dixon-Bonner; Bearne, Woltman (Cannonier 75). Subs: Kelly.

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